Did you know that noise can have a serious impact on your body? Most workers don't realize what kind of short- and long-term damage they can suffer as a result of exposure to occupational noise. In fact, most of the symptoms can be confused with the normal “work stress” that employees regularly encounter.

Health Effects of Occupational Noise

If you have ever suffered from decreased quality of sleep, increased irritability and stress, or found yourself distracted at work, you may have been experiencing the acute effects of noise on the body (learn about The Unnerving Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation).

A study of the non-auditory health effects of noise pollution published in the British Medical Bulletin confirmed these and other serious and chronic symptoms:

  • Hypertension
  • Reduced ability to learn
  • Lack of productivity
  • Heart disease
  • Tinnitus or permanent hearing loss

Now, many may not think that they are victims to occupational noise because the symptoms do not manifest themselves immediately. It is important to realize, however, that hearing loss is gradual. Unless you are exposed to 100dB or more for 15 minutes, you may not see or feel the immediate impact that noise has on your body.

Protect Your Hearing

Proper hearing protection is the best solution to this issue. OSHA regulations state that hearing protection is needed for exposure to noise levels of 85dB or higher.

Companies are required to provide at least two different options to individuals, but are all forms of hearing protection created equal? The University of Michigan School of Nursing conducted a study of more than 2,600 workers at a Mid-Western automobile factory and found that that 76% of workers believed their hearing was “excellent” or “good,” when in fact 42% of them had hearing loss. Many of these individuals were experiencing other acute or chronic symptoms of noise exposure as well.

All of the workers studied were provided with hearing protection as mandated by OSHA regulations; however, they still received increasingly poorer results in their annual audiogram tests. And the reason is simple: the vast majority of the time, workers removed their hearing protection due to discomfort wearing the device or the need to communicate.

Finding the Right Equipment

Selecting the right hearing protection for your employees' needs and environment will help minimize Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) and short-term health issues. Here are some tips that safety professionals should consider when choosing hearing protection for employees:

  • Is the workplace dirty (dust, pieces of metal, other airborne irritants)?
  • Is the work environment humid or hot?
  • Do your worker have to communicate with managers or each other while at their workstations?
  • How many decibels are your employees exposed to during an eight hour work shift?
  • Do your employees work in near loud machinery?
Also, remember that over-protection is just the same as no protection. An over-protected worker is more prone to accidents and is a danger to themselves and those around them.

Conclusion

Hearing loss is irreversible but entirely preventable. By working together and taking proper precautions, we can eliminate ONIHL and reach the goal of zero occupational deafness.